No matter how large sports gear retailer Hibbett Sports has expanded its footprint throughout the United States, the company has maintained its status as the neighborhood sporting goods store wherever it lands. According to Jeff Gray, vice president of real estate for Hibbett Sports, focusing on smaller communities where its locations are known as the go-to store for all things sporting goods is the reason for the company’s success.

“We primarily locate in smaller towns, so we are a big deal in most towns we’re in,” Gray says. “We take the concept of local sporting goods store to the next level with our products and brands, and it has always been that way. We want to go where it is a big deal and we’re the only place to get what we sell.”

Hibbett Sports has taken that model to 885 locations in 29 states. The company continues to start at the local store level by choosing a selection of goods designed to meet the needs of the cities and towns where it has locations. 

“We mostly do small to mid-size markets, which is what we’ve always done, and that is the plan of action going forward,” Gray says. “We have not strayed very far from it – we pretty much said this is what we do, and we’ve really made it work.”

Gray says this strategy is preferred over a model that forces the Hibbett Sports brand into larger markets already saturated by competitors. He also insists that the company does not stay where the market dictates it is not wanted.

“We always go where we’re needed and don’t spend money just to spend it,” he adds. “If a store is not successful, we close it. We have standards of what we do, and we stick with it.”

Hibbett Sports’ stocks these locations with gear for athletes participating in a variety of sports. Serving the needs of the active and casual athlete, the company offers products for running, walking, training, basketball, soccer, baseball and football. 

The company is dedicated to bringing the latest in footwear fashion from its customers, including the most recent launches from brands like Nike. It also carefully selects the apparel it offers to ensure customers achieve peak performance in their chosen sport. It is known for offering the latest in fashion shirts, jackets, shorts, pants and accessories.

New Development Delays

He says Hibbett Sports once opened between 60 to 65 percent of its new stores in new construction projects annually, but today 90 percent of new store growth is in existing shopping centers. New development projects seem to be increasing but only slightly in the last year.

To continue growing locations, Gray says Hibbett Sports has been forced to tweak its niche just a bit. While the company typically opens locations that occupy approximately 5,000 square feet with 50 feet of frontage, they have been able to find success in both smaller and larger spaces depending on market needs and availability. They have been able to adapt to the size and dimensions that are available in each market.

Hibbett Sports has also moved into a new headquarters and distribution center to better cater to its growth needs. In June of this year, Hibbett moved into its newly renovated 110,000-square-foot office. 

The company also is under construction on a new distribution center south of Birmingham that will open in February or March 2014. 

“By moving the distribution center in a larger facility, we’re separating the two,” Gray says. “It gives us more space for both of them.”

The Neighborhood Niche

No matter where it opens its stores, Hibbett Sports has the advantage of operating as a low-cost retailer. Also, Gray says even though Hibbett Sports has opened some locations in somewhat larger markets than it had been operating in the past, it still finds less problems related to the economy in the smaller markets. 

“I don’t think they have all the stresses and problems you sometimes find in those larger towns,” Gray says. “They’re still playing baseball and Little League in the smaller towns.”

The other part of the neighborhood feel for Hibbett Sports is an unwavering commitment to customer service. Gray says the company focuses on this aspect of its business, especially when training its employees on products in specific locations. 

“If we don’t service the customer, somebody else will,” Gray says. 

A bulk of this training is delivered through “Hibbett U,” which is run by the training department based in Hibbett’s home office in Birmingham. The curriculum consists of detailed monthly training programs that are run out of headquarters as well as on-site at various locations.

“It’s everything from the basics of how to run a store to setting up an office, so we lead them through the steps of what they’re supposed to do,” Gray says. “We go over what kind of products they want by visiting competitors in these markets, and we’ll deal with visual teams to show how they can help their stores visually.”

Hibbett Sports plans on bringing its model into quite a few more neighborhoods in the near future. By the end of the third quarter of 2013, Gray says the company will be in 31 states with 925 stores, and the company wants to have 1,500 locations as soon as possible. 

“From that point, we’ll have continued, steady growth and sales increases,” Gray adds. “I think we can be a national company at some point and one day be in all 50 states.”